April 16, 2015 by Paul Goldsmith
Reading the Green Party manifesto I found myself lost in admiration for the only honest document produced by any political party this week. You should read it, you really should, and you should do so with an open mind and without cynicism. It sets out a vision of an alternative way of life for the United Kingdom that will require a massive change in just about every way we do things. But, instead of pretending, as Labour in particular do, that increasing tax won’t change behaviour but will just bring in more revenue and will continue to feed strong economic growth, the Greens admit that the transitory period will involve some real financial pain for individuals and the country. But the country they would create in the long term – described by asking you to imagine the new way of life and eventually on page 77 by giving you the day in the life of a happy, healthy citizen, is quite an uplifting idea.
What I like most is that they are very blunt with their assessment of how long many of the changes will take. They are also blunt about the cost of them, and the uplift in tax revenue that would be needed to fund it. But they are not trying to hide that, instead they justify it by explaining how that tax would be used to give everyone in the country a quality of life that we could be proud of, instead of the situation at the moment in which many of us have to turn our heads so that we might not notice the poverty and destitution suffered by some fellow citizens, for want of a job, or a decent wage. They are blunt in accepting that government spending to build 500,000 houses, create 1 million public sector jobs and many other things would have to be about 50% of GDP for the wealth that we produce to be providing the appopriate quality and quantity of public services for everyone. They are also blunt about needing to borrow over £300bn during the course of the next a Parliament (instead of the £100 billion or so likely for the mainstream parties). Finally they are blunt about the slower growth that will result. But they are similarly blunt about not really caring about that.
This is because the Greens don’t think we should be measuring our output by GDP anymore, but by ANP (adjusted national product), which takes the monetary value of our output and subtracts the cost of the resources being used up, and the resulting pollution. They feel that if our ANP can grow, our way of life could be so much sweeter and healthier that , with less actual money, we would actually feel richer. Hence there will be money spent on insulating all homes, hence there will be carbon quotas for everyone, with people being able to sell any allocation they don’t use, hence there will be a plan implemented to stop using non-renewable resources altogether and to go past the UK’s obligations under the EU Climate Change Agreement.
Some of the most interesting policies are around taxes and equality. There is a ‘Robin Hood Tax’, which is a small tax on all financial transactions. It will raise a lot of money without necessarily reducing output from financial services, seeing as it is so small. There will be encouragement and then possible regulation that no company in Britain can have the top paid employee earning more than ten times the bottom paid employee. Ways to discourage excessive pay include a 60% top rate of income tax and, interestingly, companies not being able to include the pay of anyone earning more than ten times the wage of the lowest earner in the company in costs that can be taken off profits to lower corporation tax. Corporation tax will be raised to where it is in the other G7 countries, and the income from that used to abolish tuition fees, including wiping out existing loans. The argument being that our corporations benefit from the education received by university graduates, so they can contribute more towards it. The Greens plan a wealth tax on those with assets over £3 million, and promise that what they receive from that will be used to lower national insurance. So, if people avoid the wealth tax, national insurance will remain high (a very clever way of setting company owners against the rich by essentially saying that if you don’t pay your wealth tax you are actually costing jobs).
At the end, from page 79 to 83, are the costings, and they are far clearer and in far more detail than any their opponents. It all makes for a very impressive document.
Now, you may be thinking, what’s the point? They aren’t going to be in government. But these ideas are now being fed into the public consciousness, which is a good thing. If a manifesto like this were ever going to be delivered, it would mean enough of the country are fed up with how we currently live our lives and want to change, so you cannot just dismiss it as ‘it’ll never happen’. In particular, you can’t use the argument that it will never happen because people will leave the country, or companies will too, because the Greens can counter with the argument that the revolution they want may mean some people are incompatible with their values, and they can go if they want to.
Who knows how the Greens will do on May 7th? Brighton Pavillion should be retained, Norwich South and Bristol West could be gained. But whatever happens this campaign has been a success for them. They have been involved in two debates, and the press have properly covered their manifesto launch. Yes, they are badly in need of a charismatic figure to really broadcast their message, but if that ever happens, change could be coming, and if you read the manifesto properly, with an open mind, it’s really not so scary after all.